GOD’S LETTER TO THE EXILES
Instructions For The Exile
This message from God came in the form of a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. At this point, all of the people had not yet been taken to Babylon. Some remained in Judah and in Jerusalem. Jeremiah was one of those.
This is commonly called “Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles”. But Jeremiah wrote as the prophet (29:1) and the letter starts with “thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to the exiles whom I have sent into exile” (29:4). So the letter is from the Lord.
But many had gone to Babylon. They lived outside the Promised Land. Their family allotment was abandoned. There was no Temple. They were thrust from the presence of God and his land and they did not know if they would have any relationship to him any more, or if they would continue to be a people, or return to their land.
Verse 2 says this was after King Jeconiah and his mother (the queen mother) were taken from Jerusalem into Babylon. This refers to the events of 2 Kings 24:8-17. (Jehoiachin is Jeconiah)
Archaeology has validated the existence of Jeconiah and his exile. Excavations in Iraq, where Babylon is located, found records of Jeconiah's existence. These are called “Jehoiachin's Rations Tablets”.
These tablets were excavated near the Ishtar Gate in Babylon. Archaeologists date to around 592 B.C. The exile is believed to have happened five years before, in 597 B.C. The tablets are written in Cuneiform. They list Jeconiah ("Ia-'-ú-kinu" in Cuneiform) and his five sons as recipients of food rations in Babylon.
Think Babylonian food stamps.
The Lord had Jeremiah write this letter to those in Babylon to reassure them that God had not forgotten them. He also gave them instructions on how to live in Babylon. They were not to be rebels or terrorists. They were not to escape. Rather they were to settle in and be good citizens.
In verse 5, the Lord said to settle down and live in Babylon. They were to build houses, plant gardens and eat the produce. They were to have children and arrange marriages for their children to have children so that they would multiply rather than decrease.
Notice this twist on the normal command to be fruitful and multiply. Whenever God placed men and women in his sacred place, he told them to be fruitful and multiply and take dominion over the earth. In other words, they were to have children, spread out over the land and take care and control of it.
When God first made man and woman, he told them “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”. Genesis 1:28. He said the same to Noah and his sons after the flood. Genesis 9:1. He promised to multiply Abraham greatly. Genesis 17:2. He also promised to multiply Ishmael. Genesis 20:9.
Isaac passed the blessing of Abraham down to Jacob in Genesis 28:4, including being fruitful and multiplying. Then the Lord himself later told Jacob to be fruitful and multiply. Genesis 35:11.Jacob recounted the story to Joseph in Genesis 48:4. At that time, they were living in Egypt.
Here in Jeremiah they are not in the Promised Land. They were not in Israel. They are in exile. They are more like Jacob in Egypt than Adam in the garden or Abraham. So, why would God command them to be fruitful and multiply?
I can think of two reasons.
First, it was always God’s desire for those who love him and serve him to spread over the earth and rule it as his representative. Adam and all the sons of Adam have largely failed at this task. We have filled a lot of the earth, but have not generally ruled it as God’s representatives or in his image. The second Adam will accomplish the task. The second Adam is Jesus. He began the task by giving the great commission to his disciples, to go into all the world and make disciples, or multiply. (Matthew 28:19) When Jesus returns, he will complete the mission of bringing the whole earth under the reign and glory of God.
Even though God exiled his chosen people, he did not abandon his plan to bring his glory over all the earth and he did not abandon his people. By commanding them to multiply, he was preparing them to be able to return to Judah and take dominion over it. Many were killed in the wars and exile journey. A greater population would be needed to return and rebuild the land and city as God’s sacred place.
So, the second reason, was to tell them he had not abandoned them as a people, but would indeed continue to work with them to accomplish his will.
Interestingly, they were to seek the welfare of the cities in which they lived. They were to pray for it and for its welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 If the city prospered, the Hebrews in it would prosper. There is no command to rebel. There is not command to bring down the government or the country. God had all that in hand. He willed that Babylon would conquer and rule the countries of the Middle East for a time period and they were to cooperate with his will.
The word for “welfare” here is “shalom”. It means peace and prosperity. It the Hebrews prayed for the shalom of Babylon, they were cooperating with God’s will to prosper Babylon. In turn, God would prosper them in preparation for their return to Jerusalem.
Reject False Prophets
Some of the prophets did not agree with God’s plan. They prophesied that the Hebrews would be in Babylon no more than two years, so the people should not settle down as Jeremiah instructed them. Chapter 28 relates the story of Hanaiah. He was a false prophet. He said the Lord would break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar withint two years. 28:13. Here in 29:8-9, the Lord instructed the people not to listen to this message because it was a lie and he did not send those prophets.
God’s Word On the Exile and Return
God rejected the message of these false prophets because he knew what his plan was. This again shows God’s eternity, or timelessness. He knew what was going to happen and in fact willed what would happen. He had plans and he would bring them to pass.
This was his plan: he would keep them in Babylon for 70 years and he would keep Babylon in control for 70 years. At the end of that 70 years, he would keep his promise and bring them back to Canaan.
When did God make that promise? Well, look at Deuteronomy 30:1-10. This is a restatement of the blessings and curses. God said, after I drive you from the land because of your sin, I will bring you back and restore your fortunes. In addition, he would restore their hearts toward him. God also stated this in Leviticus 26:40-42. He specified 70 years in Jeremiah 25:12. In Deuteronomy 4:29-30, God said Israel would worship idols, but when they repented and sought the Lord with alltheir heart and sould, they would return to the Lord.
Ezra also referred to Jeremiah when writing about the end of exile in Ezra 1:1.
Jeremiah 29:11 is a very well know verse. It is also an abused verse. I have heard many people “claim” this verse for the day or as their “life verse”. But this verse does not say you will have a good day today. It says God planned, before the exile, to bring the Jews back to their country and restore their fortunes, for they would call upon him and seek him.
This promise is to God’s covenant people as a group. It did not mean every individual would come back to Israel. In fact, many would die during the 70 years of exile.
Daniel knew from this passage that repentance was required, so he repented and prayed on behalf of his people. Daniel 9:4 says he made confession. He confessed all that Israel had done to disobey God and said God was righteous to punish them. Then he asked God for mercy and restoration.
But what about Christian hope? Our hope is not that we will have a good day. Our hope is that we will have a good eternity! 1 Peter 1:13 says “…set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”.
“Hope” in the Bible is not a wish as it is in American vernacular. It is the encouragement that comes from knowing we have a certain future: eternity with Christ.